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It is a temporarily glorious Saturday afternoon in Central Park, and the Frisbee-wielding denizens herein are visibly disturbed by the amorphous thrash wafting from the SummerStage compound nearby. It’s opening weekend for the splendid free concert series, which today features a show advertised in the program as “three generations of alternative music,” headlined by what’s rumored to be the mighty Television’s last show ever. But first, it’s time for the amorphous thrash, courtesy of fellow NYC dudes Dragons of Zynth. Up close, their thrash sounds only moderately more morphous. They leap about acrobatically and portend the prog apocalypse. Primus on TV on the Radio. And then, out of nowhere, they close their set with an eight-minute falsetto-laden power ballad that appears to be sincere. Oh, I am so confused.
Let us further consult the program.
“Dragons of Zynth combine punk, dub, funk, soul, and heavy metal. . . . ”
Bad Omen #1: More than three genres necessary for adequate description.
“. . . in a way so fresh it’s been given its own name: Afrotek.”
Bad Omen #2: Made-up genre necessary for adequate description. “Critics have described the group’s live shows as ‘insane’ and ‘bonkers’ (!), though the band itself prefers to call them ‘audio-physio-psychic’ experiences.”
Bad Omen #3: What the fuck is an “audio-physio-psychic” experience? There is some speculation in the crowd as to what constitutes an audio-physio-psychic experience. “Does that mean they know what we’re thinking?” wonders one colleague. In which case, the Dragons of Zynth—thrashing about semi-morphously as storm clouds gather overhead—could hear us thinking, “Oh my dogg, it’s about to start raining balls out here.”
Bad Omen #4: My companion, the Photographer, doesn’t seem to like them.
How would you describe them?
“With the right drugs, you could call it funk.”
Shortly after power-pop gleemeisters the Apples in Stereo begin their set, it starts raining balls out here. Prominent rock critics take cover under tables, pelted with rain severe enough to make others contemplate seeking refuge in the Port-A-John. Unfazed (and completely shielded under a roof), the Apples break out the cowbell, the beaming smiles, the Candy Land melodies, and a goofy astronaut costume or two. We are appreciative. The front row of the crowd, mashed against a barricade, is the smiliest I have laid eyes on in quite some time, mashed and drenched though they are. Gawky, ebullient frontman Robert Schneider leads us in a giddy (though currently inaccurate) sing-along from the band’s new New Magnetic Wonder (ignore the shit about the “Non-Pythagorean Scale” and it’s awesome):
Sun is out!
The sun is out!!
C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon check it out!
Hilarious. You’ve got a canopy, jerkoff.
The Apples are easily the most appropriate act on the bill—upbeat and family-friendly. Television is a tough sell to the summer-in-the-park, kids-sitting-on- Dad’s-shoulders set, even under optimal conditions. These are not optimal conditions. A somewhat crabby Tom Verlaine takes the stage and immediately announces that “our regular guitarist” has been hospitalized and shan’t be appearing; he’s referring to Richard Lloyd. The somewhat famous and revered Richard Lloyd. My companion, the Photographer, is unnerved by Verlaine’s choice of words, not to mention Television’s choice to not play “See No Evil,” which he feels is one of the great album-opening guitar riffs of all time.
“If I was in a band and I could come out every night to ‘See No Evil,’ I would,” the Photographer says.
Instead, Television play a gruff, meandering set with several tunes most folks seemed unfamiliar with—stubborn jams with ominous overtones, like the scores to James Bond films set in the Middle East—and just one track off Adventure and a few off Marquee Moon, the late-’70s punk-with-guitar-solos classics for which they are still rightfully revered. Though, to be fair, the Adventure track was “Glory,” a slick, bass-driven, poppy little tune that perks everyone up, including the Photographer. “In the South, this was one of the songs you could jam on at the end of the night and everyone would know it,” the Photographer says. “That and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog.'”
The nervous and fiery “Little Johnny Jewel” is even better, Verlaine’s voice flailing wildly like Patti Smith’s or Perry Farrell’s. But Lloyd is missed—his replacement, Jimmy Rip, handles the spider-handed intricacies of “Venus” just fine, but defers on every solo to Verlaine, who lets loose with a multitude of gruff, darting beasts that duel instead with drummer Billy Ficca, loose and jazzy and profoundly hostile. The crowd is nonplussed and a little fidgety, though finally sated by a full 20 minutes of the Rock Pantheon jam “Marquee Moon,” the slowly ascending riff that powers the climactic solo stretched out and reprised and reiterated for nearly 10 minutes all by itself.
Victory at last—but still, there’s cause to be disconcerted. Let’s hope Lloyd’s OK—the otherwise loony richardlloyd.com had soberly noted his hospitalization with pneumonia, just one update after suggesting that this was to be the last-ever Television show (they’ve been inactive for years) so he could focus all his attention on a solo record that “directly competes with Marquee Moon, Axis: Bold as Love, The Doors, Patti Smith’s Horses, Bob Marley’s Natty Dread, Neil Young’s Harvest, or any other record you can name as one of the greatest records ever made in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.” As a title, I suggest Our Regular Guitarist.